Lawmakers anticipate both new and past bills will be debated when the 2022 session of the West Virginia Legislature convenes next Wednesday in Charleston.
Gov. Jim Justice will set the session’s agenda during his State of the State address, which, according to 20th District Del. Nathan Brown, will likely again be spotlighted with an old item: the elimination of personal income tax.
That piece of legislation failed to pass either legislative branch last year, and did so overwhelmingly even though the Republican Party had and continues to hold a majority in both the Senate and House of Delegates.
Brown weighed in on this and other bills he believes will likely be considered and decided over the next two months.
“I really suspect we’ll again see elimination of the personal income tax as one of his big ticket items, which as you know didn’t get through either the Senate or House last year,” Brown said last week during an interview with the Messenger “It’s going to be a heavy lift because you’re essentially doing away with almost half of the state budget…it’s about $2 billion, and that is $2 billion out of $4.5 billion from the general fund. You have to make that up somewhere because it’s almost half your budget. I don’t know whether it’s feasible or not, but I’m sure it will be looked at again.”
Brown said an additional agenda item on the governor’s wish list, one on which he focused heavily during a late December press conference, is giving state employees a 5 percent raise.
“I hope he can make it work mathematically because I think our state employees deserve a raise…with the cost of inflation, the cost of goods rising, I just think that’s going to be a big ticket item too, and something we need to do if at all possible,” he said.
Another piece of legislation likely to gain a great deal of traction, Brown noted, is that of criminal reform.
He said the current go-to procedure in which first-time non-violent offenders are typically arrested, arraigned, and given cash bonds that they often can’t afford to pay, forces their incarceration and ultimately places a cumbersome financial liability on the counties for their upkeep.
“We’re looking at the people being incarcerated and what they’re being incarcerated for, and that’s simply because these county jail bills are a heavy financial burden on every county in the state,” he said. “We’ve got to look at ways that we can reduce those costs and alleviate the financial strain.”
The elimination of inventory tax will also likely be a hotly debated item, Brown said. Inventory tax, he explained, is property tax on business inventory, machinery and equipment that companies pay for doing business in the state.
“Back when Southern West Virginia coal was booming, that was a big source of income for the state,” he said.
“It’s not that great now, but it helps. It’s been an item the four years that I’ve been in the Legislature and I think it will come up again this session.”
Brown said he also expects several “social bills” to come up for debate and vote, particularly one dealing with abortion.
“I think you’ll see a bill come up similar to the one recently passed by the Texas Legislature,” he said.
That Texas law, Brown said, essentially disallows abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.
It additionally allows private citizens to sue individuals who help others get an abortion after the six-week cutoff period and, if the lawsuit is successful, awards the plaintiff a minimum of $10,000 in damages and attorney fees.
“The Texas law was pretty much upheld by the U. S. Supreme Court,” he said. “So I really look for something similar to be proposed in our Legislature this year.”
The 2022 session begins on Jan. 12 and will wrap up on March 12.